Three Penn Carey Law students reflect on their Big Law experiences during their 1L Diversity Fellowships.
Across the country, many law firms offer highly competitive 1L Diversity Summer Associate positions. University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students are well-positioned to obtain and succeed in these positions, where they gain hands-on experience and develop indispensable skillsets applicable throughout their legal educations and careers.
“The value of these positions is that they are opportunities for those of us who wouldn’t necessarily have access to these spaces to get our foot in the door,” said Rheem Brooks L’24, a Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) Scholar and Summer Associate at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Philadelphia. “Whether you are committed to going to Big Law or not, they are incredible opportunities to get a taste of many types of work, and that is invaluable for upsetting the lack of diversity in the industry on the whole.”
As they approach the end of their first semesters of 2L year, three Penn Carey Law students reflected on their 1L Diversity Fellowships, considering the ways in which those experiences have already helped to shape their career trajectories.
Rheem Brooks L’24
Rheem Brooks L’24 had been interested in a legal career for some time prior to law school — but she never could have predicted the direction her legal education took. Brooks participated in several programs working with incarcerated populations as an undergraduate, then went on to spend five years working as a paralegal at the Federal Defenders of New York, Southern District. She was surprised to realize that her favorite course in law school was Contracts.
This past summer at Morgan Lewis, Brooks worked on transactional law projects, tackling issues related to M&A, funds, and compliance. Her goal was to soak up as much information as possible about that sector of legal practice.
“I was looking for something where there was a mutual benefit at the end of the day. I loved the transactional practice because it was collaborative and very team-based,” Brooks said. “The sorts of things that I got my hands on ran the gamut and seemed like a pretty accurate spread of some of the work that a first-year associate would be asked to do on their cases. I really enjoyed all of it.”
For Brooks, one of the most valuable takeaways from her experience as a 1L Diversity Fellow was the demystification of what working for a large prestigious law firm (a/k/a “Big Law”) entails. After being exposed to a wide array of transactional legal work, Brooks feels confident that, as a lawyer, she will be able to competently handle whatever work comes across her desk.
“The experiences that I had this summer made it clear to me that, at a firm, I will learn all of the things that they need me to know in order to accomplish the job, which, as someone who has no lawyers in her family and is being exposed to Biglaw for the first time, is extremely comforting,” Brooks said.
Looking ahead, Brooks is eager to continue to explore work in the corporate sector and plans to seek out more opportunities to familiarize herself with the range of options.
“As much as the summer answered questions for me, it also posed other questions like: ‘Do I want to do funds work, or do I want to do M&A?,’ ‘Wouldn’t it be smart to take a Securities Regulation class or do an M&A Bootcamp?’” Brooks said. “Now, I can be a bit more strategic in terms of what I want to expose myself to.”
Miles Gray L’24
Miles Gray L’24 initially thought he was going to work in the medical field; however, after participating in and coaching policy debate, he realized he was drawn to the law. To him, the law represented an ideal way to combine the analytical problem-solving of the hard sciences and sharp communication skills of debate.
This summer, Gray worked a two-part 1L Diversity Fellowship at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and the NASDAQ headquarters, both in New York. In each of these capacities, Gray enjoyed getting “a little taste of everything.” At Skadden, Gray worked on matters that involved M&A, regulation, and litigation issues. At NASDAQ, Gray reviewed internal documents and worked on projects related to transactional issues and corporate governance.
“I went out of my way to try transactional practice over the summer to see what I thought about it. It’s not for me, but it’s really fun, and I really like the people at Skadden,” Gray said. “Working at NASDAQ was also a great experience. It was cool because I got to see how clients think about cost effective and valuable legal work, and I got to learn what a client wants from a law firm.”
Gray’s long-term goal is to work in legal academia. This semester, Gray is a teaching assistant for Civil Procedure — a subject that many law students find notoriously difficult to grasp in the abstract. Gaining experience navigating these concepts as a 1L Diversity Fellow helped Gray to better understand — and explain — complicated concepts in the classroom.
“Having participated in Civil Procedure certainly makes it easier to visualize some of the more abstract concepts that we discuss,” Gray said. “I find it very helpful to know a little instinctively about what the various concepts look like in practice, because I can recall specific times when I was working on one thing or the other.”
Gray expects that his 1L summer experiences will continue to be valuable to him as he engages with complex legal questions over the course of his education and career.
“There are some really distinct advantages to getting law firm experience, even if that’s not what you want to do long-term, because you get to work on really high-level, difficult legal issues really quickly, and that changes your perspective when you’re back in the academic — more theoretical and abstract — environment,” Gray said.
Esther Yoon L’24
After graduating from undergrad with a degree in political science and a minor in human biology, Esther Yoon L’24 worked on Health Policy at the U.S. Senate. She recalled collaborating alongside people with a range of academic backgrounds, but those who had law degrees tended to approach problems in a way that appealed to Yoon, which prompted her to apply to law school.
As a law student, one of Yoon’s top priorities has been exploring what a new career in a law firm looks and feels like.
“My experience gave me a valuable look into what it’s like to work at a law firm,” Yoon said of her 1L Diversity Summer Associate position at Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in Washington, D.C. “I was grateful that my program was entirely in person. I got to meet many people who could be mentors to me, from junior associates all the way to senior associates and partners. I really enjoyed hearing about their work, lives, and what brought them there. People were willing to make time — it was nice to be able to make those connections.”
In addition to legal research and memo-writing projects, Yoon also worked on a corporate deal, which was something she was particularly eager see firsthand. Moreover, building on her experience in the policy space, Yoon worked on several projects involving government investigations. For Yoon, it was exciting to discover a specific corner of the legal world that felt like it could be her professional niche.
Additionally, Yoon’s fellowship experience helped her to think about how she wants to balance her time as a lawyer. Significantly, Yoon enjoyed getting to dedicate time and energy to pro bono work. Moving forward, she expects to specifically seek out law firms that share her personal values and empower their attorneys to participate actively in public service.
“After the Dobbs decision came out, I was able volunteer my time with pro bono work that some people at the firm were doing regarding reproductive health care access, which is something that is personally important to me,” Yoon said. “For me, it’s important to be intentional about how I want to incorporate pro bono into my practice and take the initiative to seek out projects. This summer clarified that I want to be at a firm where you’re not only allowed to do pro bono work but encouraged also.”
Fellows’ Advice for Students Exploring 1L Diversity Fellowships
The Office of Communications asked the fellows what advice they would give to students applying for diversity fellowships. Here is a short summary of what they said:
Be informed and be yourself. Interviews can be daunting, but most law firms are primarily interested in hiring summer associates that express genuine interest in the firm’s work and demonstrate a willingness to learn. “Law firms really just want to get to know you, and they know you’re a 1L,” Yoon said. “Just be yourself, show interest, and show that you’re interested in them.”
Remember that these are opportunities to learn. No one at a law firm expects 1L Summer Associates to know everything; this is the time to observe, ask questions, and learn. “Don’t psych yourself out,” Brooks said. “I went in terrified that they were expecting me to perform at sixth-year associate levels, which is obviously absurd. It’s important to remember that it’s a learning experience. As you search for a summer job, try to find one where they encourage you to learn, soak things up, make mistakes, and improve.”
- It’s okay if you don’t get a diversity fellowship. 1L Diversity Fellowships are undoubtedly great opportunities, but they aren’t the only ones. The most important thing about your 1L summer is that it aligns with your individual law school journey needs. Some students use 1L summers to rest and rejuvenate after an intense first year; others dedicate that time to exploring a public interest passion. “It’s very okay to not get a diversity position 1L year,” Gray said. “It’s very competitive, and while it’s a great experience and a good way to make some money in law school, there are a lot of good legal experiences for the first summer — the opportunities do not end after the first semester of law school.”
The Penn Carey Law community is here to help. Collegiality is more than just a word — it’s a commitment. “There really is a wealth of information at Penn and its alumni network,” Yoon said. “People are so willing to take time to talk to you and help you, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of that and ask for help and advice.”
Make use of the Office of Career Strategy (OCS). OCS resources and counselors are available to help you explore your options, develop strong application materials, and prepare for the interview process. Schedule an appointment with an OCS counselor via Symplicity and don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.